Formed as a rondel of interlocking stories with a clutch of more or less loosely connected repeating characters, Keith Ridgway's people appear, disappear, and reappear. They're on the fringes of London, clinging to sanity or solvency or a story by their fingernails, consumed by emotions and anxieties in fuzzily understood situations.
... like Finnegans Wake, only readable ... Ridgway’s trick — no, his skill — is that the stories combine down-to-earth realism with an incremental sense of strangeness. He seduces you, then smacks you over the head, abandoning you miles from where you thought you’d be ... He has all the other skills too, such as pinpoint descriptive writing ... what really holds the book together are the people, a bunch of slightly messed-up but deeply loveable characters that show Ridgway’s greatest talent. He gets into people’s minds so effectively that even a reader like me, who doesn’t normally mind whether characters are likeable or not, can’t help but really root for them ... This care comes from seeing into these characters’ lives nonjudgmentally. Seeing and understanding other people is, after all, what fiction is about. It’s an empathy that extends to the title, which appears several times in the text ... surprising and empathetic, which sums up the book generally ... But fiction is also about telling a story, and Ridgway has stories to burn: not just the nine chapters that make up A Shock, but stories within these that people tell one another to make sense of their lives. It’s enough to make you believe that nonsense certain writers come out with, about how 'we need stories'. Not quite, but we definitely want them, if they’re as good as this.
There is a special kind of reading pleasure in books that feature seemingly disconnected stories of interlocking lives ... Ridgway has returned to interlinked stories for his clever and provocative seventh novel, which has interesting things to say about loss and survival ... Readers are instantly involved in the action of Ridgway’s worlds, the characters he writes with great compassion and clarity ... A Shock is a more postmodern affair than his previous books ... To give too much away about the characters and scenarios detracts from the art of the book. The delights are in the surprises and shocks, the connections that may or may not be there ... A book like this hinges on the power of the connections, and Ridgway puts his
own stamp on the genre by surprising the reader. There are crumbs that don’t lead anywhere. There are forests with no way out.
... ingeniously slippery ... What initially looks like a collection of loosely linked short stories reveals itself to be an expertly constructed house of mirrors ... Reading A Shock feels a little like being a regular at the Arms, your attention momentarily grabbed by a snippet of someone else’s conversation as a voice drifts across the bar, a name or a turn of phrase tugging at something half-remembered, so that you strain to tune in to hear the rest. It’s the kind of novel that rewards multiple readings, new echoes and connections revealing themselves each time. And, in the same way that one character describes the unsettling, near-hallucinatory side effects of doing certain drugs — 'it’s just peripheral, corner of the eye stuff, movements' — you get the sense of myriad other lives unfolding around those described here, all tantalizingly out of sight.